Tuesday, December 29, 2009

CARTOON EXPOSE

Studios lose vast amounts of money, time and talent because of gossip, so you’d think they’d put a stop to it. But no, gossip and even outright slander are not only tolerated but actively encouraged by insecure department heads as a way of keeping tabs on artists.


This makes the atmosphere in any Hollywood animation studio surprisingly sour and bitter for a place that makes a fun product.
Regular office gossip is bad enough, but cartoon gossip is far worse. Like the images themselves, animation gossip is grotesquely distorted and viciously twisted. No matter how unrealistic and downright asinine, it’s swallowed whole, enhanced, enlarged and passed around as fact. And, worst of all, this laughably implausible rubbish is not only believed, but acted upon. No benefit of the doubt, no verification, no defense. Reputations are routinely assassinated and careers destroyed by loose-lipped artists.

Even a saint wouldn’t escape the sharp tongues and dull minds of the gossipers. And the gossip is not always behind your back, sometimes it’s delivered right to your face. Artists are accused of being or not being whatever the gossipers have decided they are or aren’t.

The hostility caused by gossip makes artists feel isolated and uncomfortable and it also diminishes the quality the artwork in a business that requires co-operation and team-work.

All this misery and waste of time and talent could be avoided by simply making it company policy not to tolerate gossip––see this interesting  New York Times article by Shayla McKnight, November 14, 2009: “... the human resources manager who interviewed me, mentioned the company’s no-gossip policy. She said something like this: “There’s no back-stabbing here, and no office politics. Gossiping and talking behind someone’s back are not tolerated.
I remember thinking: “Really? That’s odd. How is that possible?” Everywhere I’ve worked people have gossiped..." "


If sycophantic smiles and hysterical jollity can be strictly enforced, and in animation they are, then it’s not impossible to make gossip unacceptable, which would make workers happier and greatly improve the product as well as the atmosphere.  The wonderful art of animation would also be a wonderful job instead of a nasty business.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CHRISTMAS IN COPENHAGEN

When I was a poor student in Paris, my friend Tove invited me to spend Christmas in Copenhagen. It was all a bit last-minute and rushed, I tossed some things in a SportSac and raced to the Gare du Nord for the train which, like all French trains left exactly on time. And it was packed. 

Apparently, the entire world had decided to spend Christmas in Copenhagen. Not only were there no more couchettes available, but no more seats either. I would have to stand all the way from Paris to Copenhagen. Bof, I thought not easily daunted, there’s bound to be a tiny corner for me to sit in. Besides, how hard can it be to stand all the way to Copenhagen? 

Pretty damned hard, it turned out. And pretty damned cold. Minus 13 degrees Celsius. The coldest I'd ever been in my life. And there was no tiny corner to sit in. We were packed like frozen sardines in the train corridors. All night I shivered and stood at the icy window looking out at the dark. At some point near dawn, the train went on a bridge or a tunnel or something interesting and everyone rushed to the windows to see it. I rushed from the window to someone’s freshly vacated seat in a nice warm compartment for a few minutes’ sleep and never saw what was so interesting.

Tove met me at the station and escorted me through rooftop-high snow banks and green copper towers to her family home, built into the hillside for warmth. Faint with fatigue, I was received in a glowing house smelling of apples and spices and wood and candles and shown to my room. I slid gratefully into a soft white down envelope like a giant sleeping bag and fell instantly asleep. Like sleeping on a cloud.

The next day, I awoke to exotic foods, fireplace flames a fragrant Christmas tree decorated with white paper ornaments and warm, friendly people.

We did a lot during my visit, saw the Royal Danish Ballet, visited friends from Paris, ate a lot of æbleskiver, ebernødder and drank a lot of gløgg and akvavit.

It was the most exotic Christmas ever, but the thing I remember most, with the most appreciation and enjoyment, was sinking into that warm, white, feathery cloud of a bed at the end of the frozen train ride.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

DISNEY ANIMATION HISTORY part VII: The Princess and the Frog



Today, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG will be released in the  US, a little later elsewhere. Please go and see it in droves, take the nippers and their friends, take all your friends, acquaintances and co-workers.  It’s box-office numbers that will save Disney pencil animation folks, that’s the way corporate numbskulls think: if it makes money it stays. Vague intentions to get the DVD later won’t do the trick here, it’s the immediate injection of cold hard box-office cash that will save the art, the artists and the know-how and skill it takes to draw films frame-by-frame. Already so much and so many have been lost, don’t let corporate greed kill off the fine art that enchanted your childhood.
     PERSEPOLIS and PONYO are excellent examples of the award-winning and successful hand-drawn animation that has been available to us while Disney disgracefully allowed its own hand-drawn animation to languish and die.
You can help put Disney pencil animation back in its rightful place by going to see The P andthe F in the first week of its release, preferably the first weekend. You’ve saved Disney animation before and you can do it again. Flex your hand-drawn muscles, show the doofuses how dumb they were to shut down the pencil animation that the company was founded on. It’s not Disney you’re saving, it’s the art form and hundreds of skilled, talented artists whose talents are now wasting away in bars, restaurants, offices and other inappropriate jobs. An animation artist’s place is at the drawing board and you can put her/him back there.
     I know you are all busy men and women of the world, but perhaps you could spare just 97 minutes of your time to enjoy the beautiful art of animation, the glorious stretch-and-squash that you haven't seen for ages, the lovely colors, the stunning background painting, the excellent camera angles/moves and lighting.  Maybe you'll even laugh and, if the story bores you, look at the art, listen to the music.  It's a good cause. As John Lasseter, Head of Animation, said in a recent Reuters interview: “Never in the history of cinema has a medium entertained an audience. It's what you do with the medium. But for some reason, hand-drawn animation became the scapegoat for bad storytelling." 
 
Here's a taste of what you can expect: http://bit.ly/192pOp

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

DISNEY ANIMATION HISTORY part IV: COLD, HEARTED ARTISTS


In 1994 when Jeffrey Katzenberg left the studio to co-create DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, he took many heavily-bribed top Disney artists with him . . . 

 THIS POST HAS BEEN REMOVED FOR COPYRIGHT REASONS 11/7/15
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

BEEF HEARTS, PIGS’ FEET, SHEEP’S BRAINS, FROGS' LEGS, LIVER, PANCREAS, KIDNEYS, SNAILS and the EW FACTOR

France is justly famous for its cuisine, also for eating frog’s legs and snails. These things came to be part of the French diet because of hard times during wars and famine. Frogs and snails and all the rest are a good, cheap source of protein and should not be sniffed at by those of us who have plenty to eat. How choosy would we be if we were hungry, I wonder?
There was a time in France (1030-1032 under King Henri I), when food was so scarce that the French not only ate snails, frogs, kidneys and livers etc., but they ate each other as well. Cannibalism was common and human flesh was sold in the market. Of course, other peoples have also resorted to cannibalism, some not even out of necessity.  
     Most ancient cultures have experienced famine at some point and have learned to eat all parts of the animals they kill: beak, snout, ears, testicles, penis, uterus, intestines, heart, lungs, pancreas, brains. Alexandre Dumas even has a recipe for elephant’s feet, in his Grand Dictionnaire de la Cuisine, available at Amazon in case you need it. They taste like marrow, apparently. 
     Too many people, usually fatter than they should be, loudly squawk “ew!” at the mention of a liver or a kidney on their plate, or even mutton, which many think is goat.  This “ew” factor has been exported around the world via TV shows and movies, making it acceptable to throw out or ignore vast amounts of nourishing food for no good reason, while too many people starve.
     There’s nothing shameful or “ew” about eating a snail.  Heck, they’re considered a delicacy these days. There is even snail caviar, delicate translucent snail eggs which taste like "a walk in the woods", I hear. And if snails eat your garden, eat them back. With garlic butter and parsley and a nice Beaujolais. Slu-uuu-urp! as Hannibal Lecter would say. Besides, snails are quite remarkable critters: not only do they have a beautifully designed Art Nouveau home, but they can slide across a razor’s edge without cutting themselves, thanks to their amazing mucous. By the way, snails should be served cooked and HOT and not on "a bed of ice", as I read with horror on a blog recently. When cooked they are not slimy in any way, the texture is softly rubbery, in fact. 
     Other fine sources of protein are octopus beaks, giant African snails (as big as a Sunday roast), cicadas, lemon ants, bee larvae, bamboo worms, scorpions,  tarantulas, dragonflies, sago grubs, cockroaches.

Photos: top: Beef heart   /  Centre right: snail caviar  

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Beef Pancreas on Foodista

Saturday, November 14, 2009

OH, WHAT FUN!

Last week I bumped into a friend who asked about my book.
    “What's it about?”
    “Animation.”
    “Oh, what fun, how charming!”
There it was again, the assumption that anything to do with animation is automatically fun and charming. The patronising tone also suggested that animation might be frivolous fluff not to be taken seriously. Not that it isn't fun now and then, but there's more to it than fun and frivolousness.
     Although cartoons are mostly made to amuse, (with exceptions like PERSEPOLIS and WALTZ WITH BASHIR), it’s the end product that’s funny, but the work required to get it on to the screen is challenging, difficult, painful. Anything but fun.
    Nothing fun or charming about working eighteen hour days, producing high quality images at supersonic speed while diplomatically dealing with people you often hate with a passion. Animation is a cold-blooded, cutthroat business, where it’s every artist for himself. It’s an industry, a business, not a joke, folks. And, although artists may have a reputation for being weird and crazy, how many films would be finished if animation artists were so nuts that they couldn’t do their job? And their job is tough. It requires not only artistic talent, but discipline, endurance, stamina, courage and nerves of steel, not to mention buns of steel.   
    Artists race against time to get those funny gags and cute, charming characters on to the screen. They may enjoy the challenge of moving a character in a funny way, painting a background with a specific atmosphere, but not for long. In animation, there’s no time for artistic indulgence, it’s all about deadlines. Daily, weekly and the ultimate deadline, the film’s release date which can't be changed. So, even though the average animated feature film, from concept to screen, takes about three or four years to make, it’s always the animation department that bears the brunt of the pressure to finish on time. The writers and designers take up a lot of the time making the film the best it can be before animation can start and, since there’s still a lot of work to do after animation, it's the animators who are under the most pressure to work fast.
    Animation is also team work. Artists have to work together, sometimes for decades, so they get to know each other intimately, they get on each other's nerves, get in each other's face and business, gossip, fret, fight and befriend each other, but always there’s the common thread that makes these disparate individuals function like one big multi-armed organism, the animation.  Animation artists would walk through fire for their art.
    And don’t get the impression that they are a humorless bunch. Artists skewer each other with biting caricatures, chortle about each other’s peccadilloes, pull stunts and pranks, but mostly they just don’t have time for fun.   
    What IS funny about an animation studio, is the way it takes itself so seriously.  It has to, to get the work done, but people taking themselves seriously are always funny.  It’s the banana-peel school of comedy.  One slip and you’re hilarious.
    And the urgency is funny. It’s just a movie, for heaven’s sake, but artists can get caught up and carried away by the artificial urgency of a deadline to the point of slapstick. All this high drama and hilarity provided fodder for my book.
    So, while the business of animation is not much fun, writing and reading about it is.          
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

DISNEY ANIMATION HISTORY: THE WAREHOUSE YEARS part III


When it was time to start animating BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. . .
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THIS POST HAS BEEN REMOVED FOR COPYRIGHT REASONS 11/7/15

Sunday, November 1, 2009

TWITLIT


I first discovered Twitter in June 2009.
After hearing about it from everyone, everywhere for months, I finally logged on, created an avatar and told the world what I was doing.  It seemed asinine.  But, gradually, I found kindred writerly and artistic spirits and spirits I didn’t think could be kindred but were.
Twitter was like chocolate, addictive as hell.
I loved reading what other people were doing, it was like looking up someone’s kilt with a powerful telescope while they looked up mine; slightly porno, very voyeuristic and altogether terrific.  Getting glimpses of people’s lives is a writer’s dream, even better than eavesdropping in a café.   Almost better than chocolate.
    After the novelty of connection wore off, I began to learn things about publishing, agents, editors, query letters and submissions that would have taken years to learn without Twitter.  The acerbic Tweets of the agents I followed caused me to stop querying altogether and to rewrite (several times) my query letter, synopsis and a fair bit of my book.  Agents on Twitter were like chocolate with 85% cacao: pretty bitter. 
    I consoled myself with sweetly perfumed 70% Lindt intense pear and the witty, sarcastic, hilarious and harshly critical Tweets and blogs of the other people I followed.  Their excellent writing inspired me to tighten up the blather on my blog.
    Over the past months, thanks to Twitter, my blog has been visited by artists, animators, writers, poets, scientists, photographers, journalists and lawyers. While I already knew that animation appealed to almost everyone, it’s always nice to have proof.
    Twitter also allowed me to see how much writers struggle to write.  Even published and successful ones panic about deadlines, agonise about the next book not being good enough, worry about being dropped by their publisher and about how low advances are going.  Good grief, it seems writing never gets easy.  Except for Dan Brown, who is not on Twitter.  Or J.K. Rowling, who is, but is too busy writing to Tweet.  (What is she writing, and when will we see it?  Will it be under a pseudonym and if so, how will we know?) 
    Dan Brown, God bless his rich, successful little heart, says he gets up at 4 am to write.  So, I figured it was worth a shot.  I began waking up a 4 AM.  Not to sit at my keyboard, but to think in the dark.  (In more ways than one).  Writing is 99% thinking and 1% typing, isn’t it?  I'd think about what I wanted to write that day.  Toni Morrison said something like: “I type at my keyboard, but I write all over the house.”   Yes, and outside too, in cars and buses and planes.
    After deep thoughts in the dark, I'd get up just before dawn and go for a one-mile walk, while I wrote in my head.  I liked being up and out while there were a couple of stars still in the sky and the street lights were still on.  And, although it didn't transform me into a best-selling author, it got the day going.  So I kept doing it.
    I fret about my so-called “writing process”.  I’m not sure it is a process at all.   I just write any way I can, really.  Sometimes in great spurts, sometimes just a word or two. Sometimes everything I write just sings, sometimes it all sucks. Sometimes I labor over a page or a paragraph or a word, sometimes it pours out effortlessly. I rant and rave on my blog to clarify my thoughts.  I tell myself that blogging is good for keeping up the writerly chops.  Is it?  I don’t know.
    My Twitter addiction is under control now, unlike my writing or my craving for chocolate.  I find that writing requires more and more chocolate.  Especially Lindt chili chocolate, not too sweet, with a little burn at the end.  I like to get my tongue wrapped around a thick chunk of it and, as it begins to melt, slide it around until all the flavors erupt all over my palate then slip smoothly down my throat.
    If only I could get my writing to slide around smoothly and erupt with a little burn at the end.
    Perhaps more chocolate will help.
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

DISNEY ANIMATION HISTORY: The WAREHOUSE YEARS part II

When the Disney animation artists were banished from the studio lot to a warehouse in an industrial park they didn’t sit around wringing their hands. They started work on THE LITTLE MERMAID and on a short to accompany it: THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, starring Mickey Mouse.

THIS POST HAS BEEN REMOVED FOR COPYRIGHT REASONS. 11/7/15
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

NOBEL PRIZE FOR ART

There's no Nobel prize for art but there should be. Its role in life is no less vital than chemistry, physics, economics, medicine, literature and peace. What would all those Nobel prize winners do if they couldn’t unwind with a bit of animation or a visit to the Louvre, the Met, the Prado or MOMA?

You can’t concentrate hard all the time or your thoughts go stale, you lose objectivity and confusion takes over. All brains need a rest now and then. That’s where art comes in. Art is the silent partner to the Great Minds of the world. When Great Minds (and not so great ones) get tired and fuzzy, art steps in to sweep out the cobwebs, mop up the worries, overwhelm with beauty, amuse, encourage and even inspire.

Many think music soothes and inspires more than art does. Maybe, but, how do you know? You can hear music being played but you can’t hear somebody seeing. And with the plethora of visual media around, who knows what a passing glance can do?  
      
How many Nobel Prize winners have been inspired by the art of the Lascaux caves,  Giotto,  Uccello, Bernini, Turner, Bacon, Hockney, even by Gertie the Dinosaur,  the LION KING or Buzz Lightyear? We’ll never know. Nobel Prize winners don’t credit art and artists in their acknowledgments of support, but surely art was there, inspiring away in the background, in glimpses, peeps, flickers and stares. Art helps all of us through life, with a little beauty here, a cartoon there, an unexpected color or point of view to distract and please us and sometimes make us smile.  

Art is not just an investment for future capital gains, it’s an investment in pleasure, beauty and grace. Art is sustenance for the soul, a Nobel prize for the eyes.



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ART, PAINTING, NOBELPRIZE

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WHERE'RE YOU FROM?

“Where are you from?” the total stranger at the elevator asks me. Inwardly, I groan and roll my eyes. This friendly stranger is, of course, oblivious of the awkwardness of this question for  someone like me. It’s a very important question, part of our instant evaluation of another human being. Right after gender and age. People want to know if you’re one of them or an intruder. And if the latter, what kind of intruder, dangerous or not. It’s a primitive, tribal rite and perfectly logical, except that very few people can provide a one-word or even a one-phrase answer these days and why tell your life story to someone you don't know?

The wording of the question is vague and practically impossible to answer anyway. Do you mean "where were you born?" (usually the case) or what city did you live in last? Define "from".

If I try to dodge the question, he’ll insist, if I refuse to answer he’ll become irritated. If I do answer and he doesn't know what category to put me in, usually the case, he’ll become hostile. If he categorises me incorrectly, I'll become hostile. 

He hasn't considered that many of us are not born and bred in the same place anymore. We’re peripatetic, we’re no longer colored by, infused with the qualities of, our birthplace. Some of us have never even seen it, having left as infants. Nor are we necessarily creatures of the place we were educated, nor do we live in one place very long anymore. We move around the world for jobs, adventure, vacation. We have a wider frame of reference and are influenced by far more than our birthplace. So, you're probably not going to understand many of us any better by knowing where we were born. In fact, it may confuse the issue even more. 

Time after time, I see people bending over backwards to accommodate this indiscretion, politely explaining, “I was born in X, but we moved to Y and I went to school in Z, then we moved to A before coming here.” And voilà, she’s told her life story to a total stranger. Do you want strangers running around with your personal data?  

It’s commonly thought to be a perfectly acceptable icebreaker, even polite to ask this question. But how can it be polite to force a stranger to tell you their life story or to lie to you? Give this some thought please folks, it really is awkward to put us on the spot like this. Answering the question “Whereyoufrom?” is a bore and can lead to insults, jeers, even attacks and sabotage for giving what the asker considers a "wrong" answer, it can even endanger your life if your country is unpopular or happens to be at war with the askers'. Asking "Whereyoufrom?" can cause all kinds of trouble. 
And if you have an accent you're considered fair game as far as indiscreet questions are concerned. “You have an accent (as if we didn't know), so where you from? Where were you born?  Where does your family live? What does your father do? What do you do? How old are you? How much did your shoes cost? Do you pick your nose?"

Why don't I just lie, you may ask. Sometimes I do, as we shall see, but one lie leads to others and then it gets complicated. Besides, some of us are lousy liars, even to strangers.
Many people subconsciously feel there’s something louche about a foreigner and they're suspicious. They don’t realise that we’re all foreigners and we all have accents, it’s just a matter of displacement: leave the country and, boom, you’re a foreigner. With an accent. The first time I got a passport, I was shocked to realise that I was one of those “foreigners”, those weird untrustworthy people. But I’m not like that, I thought. Exactly. Neither is anybody else. Being a foreigner is like being a "refugee" for Jesse Jackson during Katrina. "But they're not refugees," he protested, thinking it was a shameful thing, "They're Americans!" Yes, but they're also taking refuge, so they're refugees. Nothing wrong with that. Or with being foreign.

If, like me, you didn’t grow up in your birthplace and it had no influence on your life or character, nor did the second place you lived, but the third defined and marked you profoundly but that’s not where you live right now, how do you answer that constant question? If you say any one of the places, the asker starts jumping to the wrong conclusions, generally making incorrect assumptions and they will apply all the clichés they've ever heard about that place to you for the rest of your relationship. If you explain, you’ve told your life story. If you lie, you may be interrogated and obliged to lie some more and feel even more uncomfortable. 

While I do understand the usefulness of having a national label, some of us don't have just one. Where we're born has nothing to do with who we are. None of us chooses where we're born so why would it define us?

"Zanzibar," I lie to the total stranger as we get into the elevator and I know I'm in for a grilling about a place I've never seen. 

So, please folks, don’t ask people where they’re from. 
Let them tell you. 
In due course. 
At the appropriate time.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

URBAN LEGENDS ABOUT ANIMATION

1. Animation is fun
2. Animation is easy
3. Animation is sloppy drawing
4. There is no thought involved in animating
5. Animators are less talented than fine artists
6. Animators laugh, joke and whistle while they work
7. Bluebirds and small animals bring us our pencils
• FUN: why would 18-hour days spent animating to extremely high standards and draconian deadlines be fun?

• EASY: how is drawing a character in hundreds of positions so it looks lifelike, easy?

• SLOPPY DRAWING: Both fine artists and animators study human and animal anatomy, perspective, sculpture, art history. Plus, for animators, the intricate rules of art in motion.

• NO THOUGHT: Think how much thought goes into thinking about how to make something move, then drawing it so it moves the way you thought. A pencil line doesn’t move, it all comes to life in the mind.

• LESS TALENTED: See SLOPPY DRAWING

• WHISTLING AT WORK: There is a hushed silence in a professional animation studio because animators do a lot of thinking, plus most animation is funny and comedy is hard.  It requires deadly serious thought.  And thinking requires quiet.

• NO BLUEBIRDS or fuzzy bunnies, the occasional boa, though.
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Friday, September 18, 2009

DISNEY ANIMATION HISTORY part I: THE WAREHOUSE YEARS

Disney may not have invented animation, but they certainly refined and perfected it and should take better care of it...

 THIS POST HAS BEEN REMOVED FOR COPYRIGHT REASONS.

DISNEY: HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION

Disney may not have invented animation, but they certainly refined and perfected it and should take better care of it – Mickey Mouse, is on their corporate flag, after all, hand drawn too.
In the 1980s, Disney’s goofy management actually tried to scrap animation altogether, ignoring the fact that animation was the genesis and the raison d’être of Disney.  Say “Disney” and we don't think of Herbie the Lovebug, we think of BAMBI and DUMBO and FANTASIA and LION KING.  It took the energetic intervention of Roy Disney to get animation the reprieve of  being relegated to a warehouse in a grimy industrial park far from the studio.  It was in that dusty warehouse that the LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and LION KING were made, where the second golden age of animation would explode like fireworks.
     Even though the animators were corporate pariahs, their art could not be crushed.  They worked away enthusiastically, doing what they loved best, drawing.  Then BEAUTY AND THE BEAST got nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, holy crap!  Hollywood directors and actors were horrified to be competing with a, shudder, cartoon and Disney management woke up and said eh?
The public, knowing nothing of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, came to see the films in multitudes and droves.  The corporate goofs scratched themselves and asked WTF?  When LION KING became the biggest box-office success in animation history, doofus management finally realized they’d made a big mistake, that animation wasn’t going to just go away and die and there was actually money to be made with the art form for which they had so little respect.  So, they welcomed their artists back into the fold, built them a big new studio, gave them raises and contracts and parties with live bands and catered food.  They were the flavor of the month.
    Then came CGI and Pixar and Dreamworks and SHREK and TOY STORY and once again Disney decided that hand-drawn animation had to go.
This time, they figured the money was in the medium.  It took five years, John Lasseter and digital disasters like CHICKEN LITTLE to make them realize it wasn't.
See also:   
 DISNEY, THE BLUE HAT YEARS
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

LOSING LIBRARIES

Will we eventually lose all our libraries, all our cosy book-lined rooms with their erudite-looking, multi-colored book spines and papery, leathery smells?  And book cases, bookmarks and bookends
And will we have fake books in fake bookcases, like a Hollywood set?
There will be nowhere to press flowers or for bookworms and silverfish to live. 
Are server farms our new libraries?
And if trees are no longer to be slaughtered, will they overrun the planet?  Lovely thought.


Friday, September 11, 2009

WELCOME TO THE NEW-BLOG PARTY

Sorry you missed the GOODY BAG
filled with diamonds and pearls,
but you still get my new URLs:
 www.NLLumiere.com
www.ANIMATEDaNovel.blogspot.com
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      Imagine the glass house in FERRIS BEULER’S DAY OFF, with trees all around and the Ferrari sitting in its glass garage nearby. Guests mill about, jasmine perfumes the air as Bach’s Goldberg Variations plays softly in the background. Waiters waft about with flutes of champagne and trays of cocoa-covered truffles on doilies. Silver Macbooks are everywhere, on leather couches, beanbag chairs, low tables next to glass bowls of jasmine. Guests are browsing and clicking, typing and talking.
    A doorbell chimes and a George Clooney look-alike enters in ripped jeans and white T-shirt. Obviously an animator.
    “Hello, glad you could come.”
    A waiter glides up with champagne, the animator takes a frosty glass.
    “You have a very in-your-face new header.”
    “Subtlety wasn't getting me anywhere. Do you like it?”
    "It's okay. So, where are the animation posts now?”
    A maid in a French-made French maid outfit sashays up with chocolates, but George Clooney declines. 
   “Same place, under "ANIMATION" in the cloud. You left a comment, didn’t you?”
    “Yes, I thought you were rude about CGI.”
    “Sorry, I'm just puzzled about some CGI issues.”
    George Clooney sighs with exasperation. “Let me go and try to explain it to you online. Again.”
    “Okay, see you later.”   
    Off he goes to a nearby sofa, where he picks up a Macbook, scrolls down to PENCIL VS. MOUSE and begins to type.
    A hubbub fills the room, laughter erupting as guests discuss the new header, browse through old and new posts, admire comments, discover the new roll of brilliant blogs, slide-shows and subscriber RSS feed.
    A large group arrives, some shoving and shouting, some pained and pinched, some drunk, some stoned.
    “So, where’s the booze”
    “This way. Grab a glass or a choc.”
    They accept both and split up to pore over posts. Some go to stare at the butterflies and white peacocks that can be seen through the glass wall.
    A pierced and tattooed guest  shuffles up clutching two glasses of bubbly.
    “Woah, Dom Perignon!" he says, waving both glasses. "What a snob you are!”
    I do a Marge Simpson growl. “Arrrrg. Didn’t you read the post on SNOBBERY vs. APPRECIATION?”
    “Yeah, I read it, didn’t get it.”
    He weaves away.
    Suddenly, in the illuminated doorway, a tall, statuesque woman of stunning beauty, wearing Armani, Gucci and kitten-kicking Jimmy Choos, stands surveying the scene with a sneer. She lights a cigarette, letting the back-lit smoke curl around her like sulfur fumes.
    I clutch my chest.
    “OMG, an AGENT!”
    I hastily summon a waiter, “Forget the champagne. We need scotch. Lots of scotch. Chivas Regal. Two or three bottles.” He hurries off and I rush over to gush and fawn.  “I’m so happy you could make it. There’s a lot for you to look at, particularly OH WHAT FUN and TWITLIT, WRITING OR ART and CREATING is very popular. Have a seat, have a chocolate, have a whole box, do you like caviar, we can get some, how about––"
      She holds up an imperious hand as the waiter pours a scotch over ice and passes it to her, then she sweeps past wordlessly into the crowd.
    "Thanks for coming, don't forget to sign the guest book..." I whisper, just before passing out from the vapors.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

THIS BLOG NOT AFFILIATED WITH CINDYWEARSMANYHATS


    A couple of days ago I was informed that this blog had been hijacked.  Yikes.  
Upon investigation I found that my poor little blog had indeed been abducted.  There it sat,  embedded in Cindywearsmanyhats' unfamiliar black blog, blinking and naked without even a post around it.  WTF?
So, if you too found yourself on her blog while looking for this one and wondered WTF, please be assured that I have no affiliation with Cindy Story, Cindywearsmanyhats or Cindylou2. 
    Cindy was a fan of this blog and for some reason, decided to embed it in hers, causing all traffic to go to her blog, not mine. She has subsequently apologized and assured me that her action was not malicious, she "just wanted to help" me.
Anyway, Cindy has now removed herself as a follower and deleted my blog from hers but, unfortunately, all searches for my blog still go to the deleted blog at http://cartoonsanimation.blogspot.com.
It will take a while for this new blog to show up in searches, so please make a note of the new URLS:

http://animatedwriting.blogspot.com/
and
http://animatedanovel.blogspot.com
    My young blog, lost and un-findable, is now recovering but a bit lonely, with few visitors or followers, so I hope you’ll click on the comments and follow buttons again.  After all, this is an exciting blog, things happen here!   You could get kidnapped and embedded, among other things.  
    In the meantime,  regular posting will resume shortly.
Thanks to those of you who alerted me to this situation.
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Monday, August 24, 2009

WRITING or ART?

Ever since I learned to read the STOP signs in my neighborhood at age four, I’ve been writing. When I was twelve, my mother mocked my diary swoons over a class-mate, so I gave up writing; too incriminating. 

But after two weeks I took it up again to enter a national writing contest. I won first prize but, since I also won a lot of prizes for art, I was encouraged to follow that path. I studied art and have earned my living in various aspects of it, while continuing to write in my spare time. I’m the only writer I know whose day job is art but who is, in fact, a published author, having written the lyrics to a fairly well-known American song, which was published and recorded in Paris and for which I actually receive royalties.
    
From my professional experiences with art and photography, I'm glad I never had to earn a living writing, because you can grow to hate your tools when they're expressing other people's ideas, not your own. But, at this point, I still love language and my Mac and and look forward to the book deals and publishing deadlines that may make me hate them.
   
While working in animation, I've often come home in a lather to write about corporate idiocy, artistic spite, the challenge of the art and thrill of seeing it on the screen. I was encouraged to put my rants into a book about the wonderful art of animation and the horrible business of it. So, I wrestled the intricacies and complexities of studio life into a novel: "ANIMATED" and finished the book just in time for the global financial crisis and the transformation of the publishing industry.
   
Even though publishers may be preoccupied by e-books, cloud publishing, advances and royalty adjustments, they still need content. And a funny book by a first time author on a sexy, beloved subject that will fit as easily on to a Kindle as a soft, papery page, might be just what readers want to cheer themselves up in these hard times. What could be better than a novel about pie-fights and deadlines in an animation studio, to put a smile on everybody’s face, including mine?
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

THE POWER OF BEAUTY

In animation all our heroes and heroines are beautiful and all our villains ugly.
    Obviously in real life this is not the case. Beautiful people don't have all the virtues and ugly people don't have all the vices. But look how we behave around beautiful people and how we treat homely people.
    We may say everyone is beautiful in their own way and  speak of "inner" beauty but we all know that in our secret badass soul, we're suckers for beauty. Something in us make us want beauties to be "beautiful inside and out" and to attribute to the ugly all the nasty stuff.
    Do we ever depict integrity with a hunchback or evil with big blue eyes? Rarely, if ever.
    In life, we are who we are beneath the skin but how much is our behavior, even our character, influenced by the way others treat us? Could it be that some ugly people develop vices because they're often treated with suspicion and distrust? And, in the same way, are beautiful people virtuous because we usually assume they are and fall all over ourselves to admire and please them? 
    Apparently we covet beauty because it’s an indication of health, so we want to mate with it. But what about the beauty of objects? The arts? Nothing to do with mating, why do we value it so much?
    Many think valuing beauty is superficial and stupid. Artists in particular, are preoccupied with beauty, beauty is our business, we strive to represent it in all its forms. Are artists superficial and stupid?
Beauty and the Beast - illustration by Anne Anderson
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

ANIMATING

Animating with a pencil is a crazy joy. First of all, you can really draw. You can let rip with a free, loose, sketchy line, you can elongate and shorten and distort and generally exaggerate to your heart’s content.  Think Tex Avery, Chuck Jones.  
The directors will rein you in later if it’s too much and if you're the director, well, go bananas.
You feel like God when you give life to a character, make it walk and talk and stretch squash and jump and dance.  Like God and a parent.

    To be a good animator, you need to watch a lot of baseball, fencing, golf, ice skating, tennis, ballroom dancing and ballet so you know how a real human being squashes and stretches in motion.  Watching athletes and dancers in slow-motion is also essential.  It’s almost like special effects: runners’ feet crushed with speed, dancers’ legs fantastically elongated, boxers’ faces horribly bent around a punch, tennis players’ entire bodies stretched mightily upwards, with their little feet, freed from gravity, curled inward toward each other, pigeon-toed. Who would guess that the human body could change shape so much when it moved?

    The secret to life-like animation, is stretching and squashing.  First, draw the character all long and thin and vertical in one drawing, then all short and fat and squat in the next.  Way more stretched and squashed than you think possible. Then rough in the drawings in between, making sure that the *timing is nice and crisp and snappy.   And voilà, a bouncy, squishy, life-like movement.         
    While you’re lost in creating all this, you’re thinking thoughts like this:  Must make this line really, really l-o-o-ong, oops shit––erase, erase–– really, really long.  There.  
Or: Should I put a joint break in here?  
Or: What’s her subtext in this scene? 
Or: Keep it light, just kiss the paper with the pencil.  
Or: Stretch and squash is gravity, physics.  

    All this and endless people-watching and sketching are the artistic arsenal of the animator.  You should beware of animators, when you think they’re just staring blankly into space, they’re really storing up your every tic and gesture and one day you might recognise yourself on the screen.  Voice-over actors are always amazed and a bit perturbed when they see one of their gestures or facial features incorporated into a character.  Heh, heh.

    *The illustration is a TIMING CHART which makes animation crisp and snappy with slow-in-and-out (a cushioned start and end to the action) in this example.
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

MY LAST MEAL

A dozen marennes, some oursins and a chilled bottle of Pouilly fumé to start, followed much later by a foie gras with figues (or pommes vapeur and little green grapes) and a bottle of Château Cheval Blanc 2000 , then a small crème brulé à la lavande or a very chocolately mousse au chocolat.   A couple of hand-made chocolates from Chez Mulot and a swirl of Delamain cognac would end my last meal.
Of course,  I'd rather have this meal once a week for eternity but, since last meals are usually associated with the death penalty, this would be a worthy meal to die for.  I always feel so sorry for those poor buggers who ask for a cheeseburger.
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Oysters On The Half Shell on Foodista

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

CREATING

I love to see the face of an artist creating. Whether it’s painting, animating or writing, the expression is the same. Some would say it’s concentration and it is, but it's more than that. Accountants concentrate, but they don’t look like artists do, with all due respect. Artists creating have the look of someone in another world, their body is present, but their mind is elsewhere, on the page, in the stone, the paint, looking at something we can’t see until we get the finished creation. See the eyes of Rembrandt van Rijn and Michelangelo above and Vincent van Gogh below? Artist eyes. Eyes that say I-see-you instead of Do-you-see-me? Like sleep walkers, if you interrupt an artist who’s working, tap them on the shoulder, they jump, shocked back into this world.
 
And when I say "artist", I include: musicians, writers, sculptors, dancers etc., although I resent that they can call themselves "artists" but artists can't call themselves dancers, musicians or writers. 


What sometimes transports us, is the medium itself, the toothy texture of the paper under our pencil, the feel of the pencil, its angles and the smell of soft graphite flowing smoothly on to the paper leaving a slight indentation. Or watching the brush wetly pull the color on to the paper just the way you want it, just where you want it. Or the glistening thickness of oil paint plumped up with linseed oil that looks so delicious you want to lick it. Or finding the exact word that conveys a mood, a whole phrase that jumps out under your fingers, full of rhythm and life. But mostly, it's the idea, the concept, the vision that carries us away.

From my own experience, I know the finished piece is not always what I had in mind when I started. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s not as good, mostly it’s different. So, whenever I see a painting or a sculpture or read a book, I wonder how different it is from the artist’s original idea and wish I could also see the original idea. But no matter the medium or the intent, the end result is the same for all creators: showing the world how to see things from your perspective.


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ART, PAINTING, DRAWING, WRITING, SCULPTING